Elizabeth Bonham, layout editor
Because of its commitment to socioeconomic equality, environmental sustainability and community enrichment, the Warren Wilson community has made admirable strides within political activism, especially regarding the local food movement. But beyond local food, much of the campus culture revolves around another agricultural enterprise: the purchase and consumption of marijuana. In a community committed to preserving sustainability and equality through consumer choices, developments in international trade, domestic policy and campus trends suggest the need for a closer examination of a culture that is all-around “green.”
Espoused by the college mission and advancement materials, defining aspects of Warren Wilson include a commitment to sustainability and an emphasis on “environmental responsibility.” Campus culture reinforces these intentions in specific via strong investment in the local foods movement.
Involvement with buying local
The history of campus commitment to buying local is rich. In recent years, Warren Wilson has seen the construction of the Cow Pie Café, the innovation of the Local Foods Crew and the drafting of a Sustainable Food Policy, among other benchmarks. According to Garden Manager Karen Joslin, approximately 90 percent of the produce grown by the college garden last year remained on campus either through sales to Sodexo, the CSA or on-campus garden markets. The Sustainable Food Policy draft of April 2009 reported that almost ten percent of food purchased by dining comes directly from the college farm or garden. From “Buy Local” bumper stickers littering campus parking lots to the on-site raised pork barbeque consumed at celebratory events, over the past decade, the college community has demonstrated its commitment to supporting local business and crop production with increasing fervor.
Implications of “reefer madness”
A less formally recognized but nonetheless apparent aspect of Warren Wilson culture has historically been an affinity for the consumption of marijuana. According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Drug and Alcohol Task Force, 46 percent of Warren Wison students had used marijuana at least once within a 30-day period. The National Core Substance Use Survey of 2005 compares Warren Wilson’s 46 percent to 33.5 percent of college student use in the United States and 25.3 percent in the southeast region. With a student body whose average marijuana use is almost double that of the regional average, campus culture appears to be “green” in more than one sense of the term.
The 2010 Princeton Review ranked Warren Wilson College 13th in the category “Reefer Madness,” the criterion for which is the breadth of marijuana use on campus as compared to 371 colleges in the United States. From the same pool of colleges, Warren Wilson also ranks 13th for “Most Politically Active Students,” and first in the category “Most Liberal” in political-mindedness. In some respects, including positioning on restrictive drug policy, liberal political action and marijuana-friendliness align. However, the consumption of marijuana that is produced and trafficked by unknown sources calls into quesiton the political ethics of human rights, socioeconomic equality and fair trade that support the local foods movement.
A larger perspective
In recent years, there has been increased violence surrounding Mexican drug cartels driving marijuana trafficking between national borders. According to the Washington Post in March 2010, almost 19,000 deaths occurred since 2006 as a direct result of this trade network. In the same month, the New York Times reported that United States consumers represent the majority demand for Mexican marijuana supplied by these cartels. In March, the United States government cooperated in a $331 million project to address the gang violence via military operations. This and other military aid was the most significant action taken by the U.S. in this issue to date.
In the southeast region, including North Carolina, recent FBI operations to address marijuana trafficking included Operations Latitude Adjustment and Shooting Star, brought to federal courts in winter of 2010. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in January of 2010, most of the marijuana available to the state of North Carolina is illegally trafficked from Mexico through Atlanta, GA. The DEA named Atlanta “a hub of drug distribution in the eastern United States.” This report suggested that besides a small percentage of home-grown marijuana crops, most of the marijuana available to students at Warren Wilson is the product of Mexican drug cartels operating out of Atlanta.
A random survey of 25 Warren Wilson students taken for this article showed a discrepancy between their level of information about local foods versus the same knowledge in terms of marijuana. Every student interviewed affirmed that local food was important to him or her. Approximately 80 percent also affirmed their involvement, in some capacity, in the campus conversation about serving local food in college dining halls. These students expressed unanimous interest in knowing where their food comes from. Contrastingly, only about 20 percent of these students felt well informed about the transport, growing or socio-political effects of marijuana. Only two students over all those interviewed reported that they knew the origin of the marijuana they regularly consumed.
What students are saying
Are there solutions to the discrepancy of values illuminated by the difference between awareness in consumption of marijuana versus food on campus?
Interviewed students suggested several options. One belief is that were the growing of marijuana legal in North Carolina or in the United States at large, students could safely and consciously grow their own. For the time being, some students believe that awareness around the social ramifications of purchasing internationally trafficked marijuana may decrease consumer demand. “If it’s illegal already, at least try to be a bit discerning,” said senior David Kelly, discussing the power of consumer choice in influencing markets. In terms of buying Mexican-grown product, Junior Jose Jimenez chooses to abstain altogether. “I don’t want to have on my conscience buying stuff that could potentially kill people,” he said. “Somebody’s life is on the line.”
As it currently stands, the state of the marijuana trade between the U.S. and Mexico is possibly the worstcase scenario. Because some states have decriminalized marijuana but legalization is not national, the U.S. demand on Mexican drug cartels has been concentrated rather than alleviated. This suggests that the scope of the situation needs examination on an international level. However, this is not to say that the Warren Wilson community has no agency in the matter. College projects including EMPOWER, promoting awareness of power and privilege, Peace and Justice Crew, working for human rights and the local food efforts mentioned previously, create a community at Warren Wilson that is informed and conscientious. With their personal choices and with direct action, community members can apply similar ethical standards to the treatment of marijuana trade and its international effects.